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Again a Poor Risk

Portland slipped from the honored position attained in 1918, however, with fire losses rising to $552,530.52 in 1919; $1,126,396.87 in 1920; $728,717.70 in 1921; $1,450,618.45 in 1922. As a result the city was again rated as a poor risk by the fire insurance companies. Then followed a $1,235,918.38 loss in 1923; $975,843.26 in 1924 and $1,107,366.95 in 1925 (1, 53 & 54).

Contingent upon this record are many factors over which the fire department had little control. Shopkeepers, stocked with ‘goods bought at war prices and facing a loss due to drop in market values, often found the temptation to make up the difference by collecting on fire insurance policies too great to resist,. The Armistice brought shipbuilding and other war-time industries to an end and guards no longer patrolled the waterfront. The

fire losses attributed to ships over which the successful efforts of a increased the city’s fire

Portland were advanced several thousands of dollars fire bureau had no jurisdiction. The indefatigable clever pyromaniac over a period of three years or losses by several thousands of dollars (49 & 55).

by fire on and very more also

Portland’s improved building code, made effective March 13, 1918, ordained that all stairways and elevator shafts of new buildings, three stories or more, must be enclosed with fireproof material and entered through fireproof doors. The ordinance, however, was not retroactive. There were in Portland many firetraps with open stairways and elevator shafts (56). Following the Cudahy Hotel fire, December 2, 1918, in which one man lost his life and several were injured, H. E. Plummer, chief of the city’s building bureau, declared that “such buildings constructed before there were building regulations are fire traps” and urged that old buildings be remodeled to meet the building code requirements for new structures (57). Since such alterations were expensive, and since there was no law requiring compliance with the suggestion, the improvements were not made.

Death by Flame

The Elton Court fire on August 7, 1920, rudely awakened Portland from lethargic indifference to existing danger. Elton Court, a residential hotel of the better class, caught fire, through a smoker’s carelessness, in the first floor lobby. The flames rapidly swept to the top of the building through open stairways and elevator shafts. Sleepers were aroused about five o’clock in the morning to find the halls filled with smoke and flames. All means of escape, except through the windows, were cut off. The building had only one fire escape, the minimum required by law for buildings of that class at the time. It was of little use as it ended twenty feet from the ground. When the fire department arrived smoke was pouring from every window in the four-story building. The cries of the trapped victims added horror to the scene. Rescue work was started immediately but in this the firemen were handicapped by the lack of adequate ladders. Four deaths, one of a woman who fell while being rescued, two who jumped from upper story windows unable to bear the torture of the flames any longer and another who died from burns, and a dozen


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